DIR: Jake Kasdan • WRI: Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg • PRO: Jimmy Miller • DOP: Alar Kivilo • Ed: Tara Timpone • DES: Jefferson Sage • Cast: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel
A true original is a hard find. Any purist who bemoans a poor interpretation, remake or cover version will most likely find that the original they admire borrowed from elsewhere in its creation. So rather than stack the odds in favour of immediate dismissal, we should really give the benefit of the doubt to a movie that might seem a tired re-tread of old material. The classroom setting has been recycled countless times; quite often in tales of a right of passage for youth, in other cases as a catalogue of the life of an inspiring teacher. Bad Teacher takes this setting and tries to invert the conventions of school day movies and as tastes seem to dictate at the moment fill up the movie with lewd humour. The story is told from the teacher’s perspective – that of Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz), a woman intent on finding a wealthy man to take care of her, who chose a teaching career as the softest route to earn an income until she finds the necessary man. The opening of the film sees her plans fall apart so that she is compelled to return to teaching for another year and return also to the hunt for a man.
The movies title immediately invites comparison with Bad Santa but as soon as we are hit with the caliber of humour and jokes of Bad Teacher is it made clear this is a poor, poor successor. The gags do work on paper, the trouble is they have worked on paper before and are lazy repeats of humour that any savy viewer will know the punch line to a long way off. There seems to be method of performing which encourages over acting, glaring eyes and shouting to create comedy. You might call it the Will Ferrell approach. It is at epidemic proportions in this movie in the form of Lucy Punch who plays the ‘villain’ of the piece. The eccentricity of the character is over done and uninteresting; the character belongs in a pantomime rather than an adult comedy. This is true also of most of the supporting cast, the line-up of usual suspects fill out the school staff room – dothery, distracted, docile characters meant to add to the comedy but instead just come across jarring and flat.
The movies greatest missed opportunity is to be a properly edgy, treacle black comedy. Cameron Diaz is clearly game to go full throttle into the depths of a nasty character, filthy mouth and bad intentions intact. She is on fire here, not the least bit likeable but the strength of her screen presence is key to making the movie watchable. Julia Roberts and Hilary Swank may go for teaching roles that empower women and reform inner city kids but Diaz could have delivered a memorable character, perverting all these roles, if only the material was better. The best teaser of what could have been achieved is in her chemistry with Jason Segel’s gym teacher; their dialogue sparks and he is the only character drawn well enough to engage properly with her and not play-up as if performing for pre-schoolers. Half way throught the movie, in the midst of Elizabeth’s selfish scheming, we get a montage set to ‘Gangstas Paradise’. By inviting another comparison, Bad Teacher shows its lack of bravery – a tame take on a genre ripe for subverting and humour that misses the mark too often. At risk of ending as many other reviews will do, this report card is firmly marked ‘Must Do Better’.
Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Bad Teacher is released on 17th June 2011